|3rd Sunday of Lent, 19 March 2017|
From the Dean’s Desk
The Gospel for the next three weeks will be taken from the Gospel of John: 4:5-52 (The Samaritan Woman); 9: 1-41 (The Man Born Blind) and 11:1-45 (The Raising of Lazarus). Each of these passages gives us a tremendous amount for our prayer, meditation and spiritual life.
The figure of the Samaritan woman is important in today’s Gospel passage. She enters the scene as a person with a latent faith – a faith that is based on what she has been told by her ancestors, but has not been lived fully and totally. She is presented as a woman who does not have a high social standing within her community. This becomes apparent to the reader when John tells us that she comes at the sixth hour of the day to fetch water from the well: the hottest time of the day – a time when noone else will be around [v. 6]. We gain some more insight into her ostracised status when Jesus mentions that she has had five husbands [vv.16-19].
Jesus continues to reveal himself to the woman when she mentions something of her knowledge about the Messiah. He states openly: ‘that is who I am, I who speak to you’ [v. 26]. The woman then returns to her village, not afraid of meeting up with the people who scorned and despised her: she is a different woman – the Holy Spirit has been given to her through her encounter with Jesus. Her newly founded enthusiasm highlights the fact that when faith appears in the life of the person, then fear is driven out. She then becomes the catalyst to bringing others to the faith through an encounter with Jesus [v. 39-42].
The movement and progress in this story is truly memorable. It allows us to acknowledge the surprising ways in which God comes into our lives – often and unexpectedly. The fact that Jesus stops in the middle of the day and sits at a well, in Samaritan (enemy) territory shows how there is no limit to God’s grace. It is interesting that Jesus allows himself to enter into dialogue with this foreign woman, breaking many social mores of the time. His encounter shows how God’s grace can come through ordinary and everyday circumstances – like the coming to a well in order to draw water. One of the incredible aspects of this story is the way in which Jesus is aware of the woman’s past – her having had five husbands, but does not hold that against her. He uses that knowledge to awaken in her a rather dormant faith. From there the woman recognises Jesus as a prophet and goes to her village to arouse interest in the others. Jesus does not condemn her for her past, but utilises it as a means of conversion and salvation. There is some connection here with the earlier story in John when Jesus encountered the woman caught in adultery [John 8:1-8]. Here also Jesus does not condemn her, but brings her to new life and faith, eradicating any presence of the initial fear in her life.
Jesus’ motivation and purpose in revealing himself to the Samaritan woman in these terms is to show her that nothing she has done in her past life excludes her from God’s mercy – offered to her as living water. This reminds us of the message of Pope Francis at the beginning of the Year of Mercy, when he states that God’s mercy is greater than any sin that we may have committed. What a refreshing and inspiring thought. Approaching the Sacrament of Reconciliation is certainly a good way of obtaining God’s mercy and forgiveness at this stage of our Lenten journey.
As we begin our third week in Lent, in this encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman and the consequent discussion about Jesus as the water that gives eternal life, we can ask ourselves what steps have we taken (or need to take) in order for us to secure some of that living water for ourselves. For what am I ‘thirsting’ at present? What do I find that satisfies my ‘thirst’ now? Is it Jesus or something else? I need to acknowledge my ‘thirst’. Does my spiritual life need some ‘watering’ at present?
Fr Robert Bossini